Chapel Thrill Escapes – The Belltower (Review)

Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Players: 3-6 (We Recommend at least 4, as this guarantees a private experience)

Price: $20 per person (Discounts for UNC Students and Faculty)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Theme:

From the Chapel Thrill Escapes website:

Dr. Venable, a famous chemistry professor, was last seen in 1934 at the top of the belltower. He pronounced he had made the world’s next greatest discovery. But soon after, he vanished. Now, you’ve been contacted by his distant relative to enter his secret study and find out what great, or sinister, discovery he made. If you so dare.

First Impressions:

Chapel Thrill Escapes hit our radar as something of a novel concept. This non-profit, student built and operated escape room is housed on campus at the University of North Carolina! We really dug this idea, and reached out to book a room as soon as we heard. We also appreciated them working with us when we needed to move the booking, and their customer service was great!

High Points:

First, I’d like to thank Parker, our game master, for being a great host and adjusting on the fly when something went wrong with one of the puzzles. I’ve been in professional escape rooms that aren’t nearly as responsive when something goes wrong, so the quick action is appreciated! Speaking of, I’ve also been in professional escape rooms that aren’t as well designed as this one. This student led effort showed some real promise, and is honestly better than some for profit rooms in the Triangle area. The set design is appropriate, and well done for their budget, with some fantastic hand crafted puzzles and props peppering the room. There were also some cool twists, subverting expectations in a couple areas, and delivering some cool surprises, especially in the second act. All the puzzles and set dressings remain on theme, and we really enjoyed how The Belltower invokes it’s namesake, allowing for a nice sense of integrated progression.

The game flow itself was great, with only one choke point we came across during our game. With enough non-linearity to keep four veteran escape room enthusiasts happily puzzling the entire game, and a density of puzzles that ensured we didn’t escape too quickly, I was impressed with how well designed the actual game was. Bereft of any red herrings or logical leaps, the experience remained satisfyingly intuitive from start to finish. Even those puzzles that included some very common escape room tropes did so in original new ways. One particular puzzle that I loved was a multi-step interaction that ended with us using a prop previously thought to be set dressing in a really cool way. In fact, there were several points at which we came across puzzles we’d never seen before, and that’s quite the feat for our group! The latter part of the adventure was densely packed with these sorts of puzzles, and we ooohed and ahhhed our way through them all. On the whole, we were pleasantly surprised with how masterfully this room was done!

Low Points:

The one choke point we came across could use a bit of iteration to ensure groups don’t get stuck on it, and from our conversation with our GM, this one is still being tweaked to ensure that it becomes as intuitive as the rest of the room. We came across a couple hiccups during our game, but our GM was very attentive and fixed these as soon as they came up, and I’m sure these growing pains will be worked out soon. Finally, there are a few points where the inner workings of some of the more technical puzzles are visible. With a bit of masking to hide some wires and that sort of thing, the immersion factor would be even better.

Verdict:

Chapel Thrill Escapes is a great new escape room in the area, and the fact that it is a non-profit, student led effort makes it even more of an achievement! Boasting puzzles and a game flow that puts some professional rooms to shame, I absolutely recommend giving this room a shot. It kept a group of enthusiasts well entertained for the entire experience, and is approachable and intuitive enough that new players will have an excellent time as well. Book your time puzzling through The Belltower here!

8/10 (Great)

Full disclosure: Chapel Thrill Escapes provided media discounted tickets for our group.

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